“My List of Problem Areas in Today’s Aikido,” by Stanley Pranin

“It is very common to find students and teachers alike resort to
the forcible application of strength in order to make a technique work.”

In the last several years, I have becomed focused on a number of areas that I have identified as commonly lacking in training and deserving of the attention of aikido instructors. I regard these problem areas as widespread across styles and detrimental to the development of the art. Among my observations — voiced here and elsewhere — are the following:

  • In training, it is very common to find students and teachers alike resort to the forcible application of strength in order to make a technique work. This increases the risk of dojo injuries.
  • Most dojo training is reactive in nature. By that I mean, the common dojo training paradigm involves uke initiating the attack and nage responding. This practice is suitable for the beginning student as a way to learn the mechanics of a technique, but breeds bad habits in more advanced practitioners who attempt to execute flowing techniques. Nage’s response time is too limited due to a lack of initiative and sloppy execution of technique can result.
  • Training unfolds with little attention given to breaking uke’s balance. As a result, as the technique is executed, uke may have opportunities to hinder, stop, or counter nage’s technique. One solution to this problem is to stress the importance of nage operating from uke’s blind spot — diagonally to the rear — in order to safely execute techniques.
  • Many practitioners are not in sufficiently good physical condition to execute some of aikido’s more advanced techniques that require above-average body flexibility and agility.
  • Few students understand the concept and methods of locking uke’s body structure to break his balance, and apply techniques and pins. This allows aikido’s devastating techniques to be practiced safely as undue force becomes unnecessary. For example, assume you’re applying a nikyo. Instead of applying force to the wrist joint, causing pain and risking injury, you immobilize the entire arm to shoulder structure which in turn “locks” the body. From there, a simple hip lowering will cause uke to fall, but without injury.
  • There is a lack of awareness of the specifics of Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido technique. A careful study of Morihei’s art as seen in his films and photos will impart a deeper understanding of his techniques and intentions for aikido, and raise the bar to a much higher level for aikidoka today.

I would invite you to comment on the points I have raised, and offer your observations about training problems as you perceive them, and ways of improving the technical level of contemporary aikido.


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  1. Stanley,

    I’d broadly agree with almost all your points there. I have found all of the problems present in our organisation’s dojos with the last 2 being particularly prevalent. I’d also add a lack of martial awareness to my own list. I find that too often students take their practice too lightly and it does not occur to them to perform as if they were under more serious attack (though to clarify, I do not believe Aikido’s main purpose is to cultivate a martial attitude, I just think it should be adhered to more than it is). I must confess I’m not entirely sure what you mean when you say ‘Few students understand the concept and methods of locking uke’s body structure to break his balance, and apply techniques and pins’ could you clarify that?

    • Thanks, Sam, for your observations. The “locking concept” is not one I’ve heard much about. What I mean is, for example, let’s say you’re applying a nikyo. Instead of applying force to the wrist joint, causing pain and risking injury, you immobilize the entire arm to shoulder structure which in turn “locks” the body. From there, a simple hip lowering will cause uke to fall, but without injury. That’s what it felt like to me when Saito Sensei applied a nikyo on me. I can’t say that for other sempai!

      • Hi Stan,
        I wonder if the locking goes further i.e. right to the ground and so locking the Kuzushi in place so they are unable to move from the teetering precipice they have been placed on? Would be interested if this was your experience from Saito Sensei

      • Firstly, thank you very much for this list! I think there is often a great hesitation to objectively look at practices and push for improvement in the traditional format of Aikido transmission. The “locking-out” concept you mentioned in your post spoke to me as very familiar, but I was hoping to get your opinion on how I am viewing it. I have had exposure to a number of different Aikido folks over the years, and I have found that this concept is sometimes missed in training. If you view the joint locks (or any technique, but it is most obvious in the joint lock techniques) as a tool to connect with your partner’s center, then the whole concept of the joint lock is changed. I think any student of Aiki arts will find someone that is hard or impossible to throw with a joint lock all by itself, but if you can use that mechanic to off balance, you can be successful. Pain alone, even injury alone may not do the trick (though it may work fine on me:) My teaching example is Kote Gaeshi. We get in a rut if we focus on twisting the wrist without the connection to Uke’s center, and the resulting balance breaking. Interestingly, with some really strong folks, you can make a kote gaeshi work to throw, without really bending the wrist much, if any, at all. It is all about connection to the attacker’s center.

        Thank you for your efforts, any comments/criticisms are most welcome!

    • Can’t agree more with all of the above… Many dojo’s just concerned about testing and not taking the time to learn for themselves so they can teach to their students the principles; KREW; keep one point, relax extend ki, weight underside, etc. I know several dojos whose students know the list of techniques very well, but can not do Ai-Ki-Do and it shows!!!. It is a lifetime art and it takes time to learn these principles, but at least attempt to teach what you can of the basis of Aikido.

    • The locking that Stan is talking about is equally important for producing power OUT. If you cannot receive power in through the arm you cannot deliver it out through the arm. To have the technique done on you correctly is to strengthen the arm.
      I am thankful to have had good teacher do this for me.
      Also to develop this strength you need to eat properly. This is another lost art.
      Thanks again, Stan.
      Braidwood Dojo
      Aikido Australia

      • Sensei,

        You remark upon the importance of eating: OSensei tells us we should eat ‘mostly vegetables’.

        Can you expand on eating properly for strength, strength that does not equate to adding muscle mass?

        Thank you in advance.

  2. I’ve found these reflections a very honest and clever way of describing some fundamental crucial points of practice as they emerge in actual experience, as they are not necessarily seen in everyday practice.

    It’s this kind of perspective on the art that can really improve the level of attention and consciousness on the quality of aikido and its growth today according to its original spirit… And above all, it’s an open perspective stimulating further associated thoughts.

  3. Recourse to available strength is nice when you really need to make it happen, but have messed up. Kihon waza can make that habitual. That habit becomes a matter for concern after shodan.

    The other side of the coin are styles that substitute speed and motion for technical precision. It’s a lot easier to unbalance someone who’s in motion, the faster the easier. But that’s poor preparation for a balanced attacker who doesn’t get ahead of himself. As with strength, that becomes a problem, if not in a real world situation, at least at some point in the dojo.

    It is reasonable, looking at most dojo practice, to consider aikido a defensive grappling art. Too bad about that. The problem is, as in my field – real estate appraisal, the foxes are not only IN the henhouse, they’ve taken over and established a breeding program.

    There’s no help for age and infirmity. Yeah. They can be postponed and ameliorated, but mortality is just a b@#$!. For some reason, I’ve always seemed to have a fair number of old or handicapped students. One of them used his fighting spirit and what he knew to successfully resist a mugging. Tom Gamble gave him a promotion for that.

    Would love to discuss this further if I can make one of the seminars.

  4. Some very good points and observations, Pranin Sensei. I have noticed them as well over the years. Yes, without having proper alignment and posture it is difficult to unbalance uke. This renders the “technique” pointless and ineffective.

    Best wishes and great success in your seminar.

    Russell Jacobson

  5. Thank you Stan Pranin, for returning our attention to potential and existing problem areas in the overall attitudes towards Aikido training. The Aikido of the Founder is past, with little or no hope of correctly identifying it, let alone preserving it. Yet, he left us with enough clues, teachings, examples, and a wonderful stable of direct students to give us all hope in fashioning a reasonable and honest brand of Aikido for our own.

    For me, power comes from the correct and enlightened use of the various “strengths” we have as humans, the physical kinesthetic one being the most obvious. To arbitrarily and summarily dismiss the appropriate use of strength, as we have witnessed for decades, is mere sophistry, and is not consistent with undeniable facts. We do not function at all without our musculoskeletal system. We were designed, over great lengths of time, trial and error, to come as far as we have, although admittedly, not far enough. It is with use of the “strength” of our ability to reason and to create, that has made all the difference. This is lost in appreciating the Founder’s genius, who preferred to communicate in more esoteric terms. This is most evident in terms of your last argument that we remain ignorant of the true basis of the specifics for the Founder’s technique.

    Alas, our indulgent lifestyles, the fortunate diminution of historic stimuli from serious threats to our welfare, and the overwhelming desire to appear compassionate, kind and generous, all conspire to lull us into not taking conditioning seriously, ignoring the utility of proper kuzushi applications, and the efficacy of true “katame waza”, of pinning our opponents immediately and with “lock down” efficiency.

    I do have ample cause for hope, however, as the aikido community at large completes its weaning from the teats of Aikikai, uchideshi overbite, and from the prevalent, inconsistent and inaccurate interpretations of the Founder’s legacy of the past. We are entering a new phase of Aikido appreciation, review, and for innovative restructuring of both technical theories and of application. Thanks for being an important part of the changes being made.

    Even as attitudes towards “cross training” change and become accepted practice, I do believe that the essence of the Founder’s purpose and mission will be even more evident, and true to the original. I am privileged to be a part of this historic change.

    • Allow me to clarify what I mean by “strength.” Perhaps I should have used the term “brute strength” to refer to what I regard as a negative factor in training. Of course, beginners almost universally tend to resort to physical strength because they think they have no alternative way to use their bodies due to their cultural formation.

      Brute strength is not easily controlled. It telegraphs its intent by allowing the recipient to understand the timing, intensity, and direction of its application. It is injurious and makes safe practice difficult.

      Little by little through aikido practice, students begin to discover a different way of channeling energy in their bodies as they perform techniques. This is neither brute strength nor total relaxation. It’s a different mental and physical state and can be cultivated.

      • I think concepts like this are easier to get across in Japanese (and possibly other languages).
        For example, the Japanese refer to the type of brute strength as “chikara”. This is NOT a bad type of strength in itself, but it is unsuitable for most budo training. I think one of the reasons why so many basic practice methods have been lost is that western practicioners are simply unaware of the concepts!

        • J. D. Stevens says:

          The concept is not that hard to explain from a scientific viewpoint. It’s about body mechanics and how we generate power. Muscles generate power by contracting themselves, i.e. pulling in a direction. To extend your arm at the elbow, triceps brachi needs to contract, while to bend it biceps brachi needs to contract.
          If you work with both biceps and triceps, your arm will either be halfway out or pulled in whichever muscle’s direction that is stronger, but the power you get out will be that of biceps minus that of triceps.
          This means in order to get the maximum power out, that is to be able to, say do bicep curls with as heavy weights as possible, you need to completely relax in your tricep or it will reduce your maximum power. This is why it’s so important to not tense up and start using muscles that are not needed and that holds regardless of martial art or sport. A successful sprinter is always very relaxed in all the muscles that doesn’t matter one bit for running (as can be seen in videos of runners and how the face is just flapping the whole race), while still working very heavily (but not rigidly, instead relaxing and tensing the muscles in turn to keep momentum up) with the muscles that drive the runner forwards.

          Any tension and excess work in muscles that are not needed is like braking and giving full throttle while driving your car. You won’t get far and you won’t go fast, but still you’ll burn loads of fuel and strain your car to the maximum.

  6. Tom Collings says:

    These are great observations, and I look forward to studying them with you at your seminar.

    As I reviewed them I was reminded of a recent you tube film of a local aikido fellow here in New York who challenged a judo guy to a friendly sparring match believing he could throw “anyone” in their dojo (you tube: “aikido vs.judo” perhaps Stan can provide direct link)

    Putting aside for a moment the absurdity of attempting to use aikido in the context of sparring, and the guy’s limited skills, the film actually is instructive in relation to your list of problem areas in current aikido training:

    – You will notice the aikido fellow -WAITS- to react as he has been taught, for the light – off balance reaching attack which never comes.

    – He then tries several times to – LIGHTLY GUIDE- the judo man into falls, but clearly has no concept of kihon waza required to successfully execute aikido with a centered opponent holding strongly.

    – Finally, as Stan mentioned notice the – POOR PHYSICAL CONDITION- of the aikido man compared to the judo man.

    Although the film is painful for any aikido person to watch I believe it is very instructive, and can be a useful jumping off point for the analysis of weaknesses that need to be addressed in aikido training.

  7. Tom Collings says:

    the You Tube previously referred to is the one “Judo vs. Aikido” with Slamiszenski x Barry B.

  8. Renato Usagi says:

    I’ve been kind of away from Aiki-communities.

    I work as something akin to metropolitan police since 2008. In this perspective I have seen that for “real application” the less technical, the better. The technique either will have the element of surprise and work or it will fail, doesn’t matter how “technically correct” you try to perform it. This was enough to end my prejudices against similar arts such as Hapkido and ShorinjiKempo. In combat enviroment nikyo, kotegaeshi and udegarami are the most likely to occur. Variations of Irimi/sokumen nage are also useful. This lead me to be less focused on technical details and enphasize mindset. Techniques are likely to not to always work; train with that in mind and place yourself taking this failure points in perspective.

    On the other hand, I had a powerful experience in Japan that changed many of my assumptions. I have been shown a level of Aiki that I didn’t expect and that I still don’t understand, but it worked. In my Aiki-life I have been uke to masters such as Saotome sensei, Ikeda sensei, Tamura sensei…and many other high level, but nothing even close.

    My present opinion is:

    1. You don’t need a high level mastery to make Aikido work on self defense, you need quick mind and combat oriented mindset training;
    2. For those willing to work really hard, there is something HUGE to be found within Aiki.
    3. If you just like the motions and want to dance, enjoy it, there is no “Thou shall not dance” law…

    This said, most people are not ready to admit that they are not as good as their uke/partner makes them look. They are not ready to look clumsy, inefficient and vulnerable as they will if the partner stops behaving as a dance partner and starts acting as an opponent. This is specially true for yudansha. The lines “you attacked me wrong”, “you’re resisting beforehand” and “if I had done for real I would have harmed you” are just too easy to throw (different from real opponents). And there is no way to make them realize that.

    • Peter Howie says:

      This comment reminded me of how our Sensei sometimes spends whole training sessions teaching good attacks. Why? Because none of us had any idea at all how to fight. Aikido was developed for use in a culture where proper fighting is known. None of use had any idea how to respond to being pulled, pushed, and all the types of responses a fighter would try and make to our attacks/responses. I am a hopeless fighter. It is not sketching I ever learned and I struggle to learn. Sometimes comically.

      Good post.

      Peter Howie
      Shodokan aikido Brisbane

      • I’m pretty hopeless as a fighter, too. Aikido, though, at least in my opinion, is tangential to fighting. Terry Dobson talked about Robin Hood and Little John who pretty much agreed to fight for the log crossing the creek. Little John even waited for Robin to cut a staff for the engagement. Terry used the example as a contrast to aikido. If I didn’t get it at the time, it was because I was too dense.

        As for practicing attacks, I agree. Isn’t it amazing how lame most aikido dojo attacks are? Grabs don’t really restrain nage and strikes don’t bear mentioning. While sometimes, rarely, grabs are strong they almost never restrain nage from simple techniques, like punching, head butting or kicking uke. As for the strikes, they usually fall in the class termed in my youth, “Nyea-nyea! My sister can hit harder than that!” The funny thing is those strong but ineffectual grabs usually make aikido techniques harder. Talk about a dead end of dojo training.

    • Bokkemon says:

      This is a really good comment! The less technical, the better!! The current aikidô (generally speaking) goes in the opposite direction, which eventually will conduct to the end of aikidô as real martial art…

  9. Dear Sensei,

    I have practiced Aikido with my daughter for two years so she has a training partner. I have observed that the testing for promotion is based on the number of practicing hours or days. If this testing method is not properly executed the instrutor is giving his or her students false impression that they can defend themselves. That is the path sport karate and Tae Kown Do are on. I may be wrong.

    Thanks and have a good evening.


  10. David Bunnell says:

    In our dojo, we practice (or try to) whole body motion. The challenge I’ve found in the last five years of this kind of practice is that getting everything to work requires such refinement, that martial intent must wait until nage figures himself or herself out. Most of the techniques we practice come from a static and resisting grab, negating the ability of the nage to even employ brute force. Brute force is a good term but one could also say the use of habitual body leverage with closed joints. Even the non-trained can sense the use of brute force and resist the motion.

    As soon as one tries to move quickly, one tends to revert to the brute force method of movement, and the uke can stop the technique.

    Having had the wonderful luck to be able to take ukemi from people like Abe Sensei, Matsuoka Sensei, Okamoto Sensei, Kuroda Sensei, and Ushiro Kenji Sensei, there is a common thread between all these practitioners of the arts in that they use whole body motion, do not use brute force and are able to move through uke’s “resistance” as if it wasn’t even there. They can all apply whole body motion at speed. This is the goal of Aikido.

    How to get there is the challenge.

  11. Dear Stanley,

    I completely agree with all of your observations. Once you are aware of these elements, it makes it difficult to find a dojo that you are happy to train in! I’m happy with the place I am now, but if I move away again, I might just have to start my own dojo.


  12. Hi Pranin Sensei,

    Thank you for this interesting article.

    I have compared the areas you identified as commonly lacking in training and find nothing in common with our dojo.

    There are women in our dojo, I think it is one of the few dojos in Spain were many women are training regularly and they are the strongest (not physically obviously)

    We are training both ways, of course not the beginners, but sometimes nage begins the attack or goes toward uke, or uke becomes nage.

    Of course we have to break uke’s balance, how would we women control him otherwise?

    About the physical condition, it depends on the age, doesn’t it ? We have a newbie of 68 years, it is impossible for him to have the physical condition of a 20 year old.

    The most important issue in our dojo is safety, I got a bruise from a yonkyo last Tuesday, and we do nikyo to stretch ukes arm;) but everything is safely done.

    Our aikido is a developed aikido based on the founder’s techniques.

  13. Osu Sensei,

    I will certainly pay closer attention to these considerations in my training and teaching.

    Your perspective and honest comments are always appreciated.

    Rei, Domo.

    Until again,

  14. Joe Peterson says:

    The hard questions, the gorilla in the room. I could not agree more, it is good that these seminars are addressing these issues, these problems, this disease. More importantly, it maybe a pipe dream, but I hope for even higher attendance. 

I do feel, and it’s a shame, this important event will be preaching to the choir. All those who need to be there, to have an enlightening experience will not. That is a tragedy because the following ills I see.

    Denial is a very powerful narcotic that is highly addicting and easily affordable to being self medicating. Denial seems to be very strong, becoming an underpinning requirement for success for some in Aikido.

    Inflated ego also is another powerful force in Aikido that to the ills of Aikido as outlined. It seems to be fostered and perpetuated through out Aikido. It is almost as if it is a prerequisite for Aikido, a must for success. Especially by those who use it in replace of technique. To use an old term, ego stroking as well is as much a part of Aikido is anything else for some. Ego not only represses the truth, it represses growth and development through honest self evaluation.

    Idiosyncratic Aikido is the delivery system to all the ills affecting Aikido. Like personal views that are agendas that replace common sense, realistic and factual perspectives, it ranging from the top shihans down through to the lowliest kyu that shape how Aikido is practiced. This isn’t is never address to the harm it does. Also known as, drinking of the kool aid. Then in other cases, it is shaping or interpreting Aikido into something it is not, for the purpose of appeasing and playing to an individual psychologically needs and comforts of either the student or the sensei. In this case, there is the development and spreading of misinformation and misinterpretation.

    Thereby, inaccurate information of Aikido based on idiosyncrasies, ego repressing truth and development, and denial all are detainers of truth and reality spawning the problems areas of Aikido. Such ills, unfortunately, are so processing of many Aikido practitioners, if they did attend the seminar they would fight if tooth and nail to defend their establishment and continuance of Aikido. I doubt anyone or thing will ever be able to exorcise that demon. Regardless, it should not diminish the great significance of this event.

    There are a number of people out there that address the technical errors they see in Aikido, either though the result of poor instruction or in the construction of Aikido. Those for hire handyman of Aikido don’t address the true nature of the problems in Aikido, as I think Stan can both in experience and profession. No one in my mind has had the access to the wealth of information and resources to Aikido that he has. His vast knowledge base of Aikido and Japan is unprecedented. No one, frankly, will ever be able to have the same opportunities and availability to the same golden resources he had. Stan is far more important for identifying and correcting the real problems Aikido practitioners face in Aikido. He is the Aikido doctor. It is to great dismay that more Aikido practitioners see a handyman who address mending the structure, and is unable to replace the structor with the better original structure.

  15. Kansetsu without kuzushi (balance-breaking) is nothing. It’s not Aikido or jujutsu that can be applied when needed. Kuzushi is an integral part of kansetsu. This is easily taught and easily learnt.

    No real attacker will comply just because you are mimicking a form.

    Every Aikido practitioner “gets it”. The frauds do not because they are not practicing Aikido but aiki-lets-pretend.
    I am deeply concerned about the state of Aikido world wide as reflected in the comments of some “experts.” Your “lineage,” “organization,”provenance” or who you “trained under” or over or besides and all the talk in the world will not effect the kuzushi for you.

    It’s about body-mind connection and leverage.

    Yes, we all know ad nauseam that most of us will not be going to war tomorrow and that Aikido should unlock other talents, but to posit an emperor-with-no-clothes as an excuse is poor form indeed.

    Excuses and mental and physical laziness don’t win fights. That is a Divine principle. And it requires no “fighting” rather SINCERE TRAINING!

  16. Well put, Stanley. I have often told my students to write out the hiragana for KUZUSHI and glue it to their bathroom mirror so that they will never forget that the FIRST physical action is always kuzushi.
    As to using brute force, I boringly repeat that it is called Aikido not Aimuscledo. Seriously, the general omission of Aikiatemi is also a great problem in real world Aikido, as is the misunderstaning (IMHO) of the true nature of the same, i.e. interrupting uke’s flow of I, Ki and Ri. Unlike many of the younger folk who teach Aikido, I also contend that shite is responsible for uke’s well being, in the dojo or in the unfortunate situation when the Aikideshi is found in the wrong place at the wrong time. Aiki is the only way to keep from being sued in this litigious age.

  17. Charles Humphrey says:

    Not in a position to comment in depth or from broad experience in “aikido” dojos (in the brand name sense of the word.) I have seen some of the problems mentioned though. I was just talking to my partner and fellow practitioner about some of these issues, notably the “true believer/self hypnosis” phenomena that is so rife in all non-sportified martial arts. My only advice is to take a syncretic approach.

    Doing some super-soft individual gong training can develop better sensitivity that makes getting the right body mechanics second nature. If you have that sensitivity and relaxation, then it’s very obvious when you’re doing it right or wrong. Like playing billiards. You either line the balls up right and have that satisfying feeling of being right on target or you recognize that you failed and try again. There is no just pushing the ball into the pocket and saying “Ha! still got it!” and balls tend not to feel bad about making you lose face and dump themselves into the pockets of their own volition.

    Good striking training is essential as well in combination with this kind of gong training. I’ve commented before that the Systema folks have a really good method for training this ability in a safe context. Their overall methods can be applied in a number of contexts.

    It’s hard though. I’ve trained for varying periods under about eight different people or groups. At least half of them were caught up in nonsense, even at higher levels. I remember one of one of Takeda Tokimune’s most senior students, a fifth dan (whom I won’t name), trying to do a fancy technique where he threw students who held onto his belt. I didn’t tank like the others and then he resorted to just kind of shoving me to give me the point “Now you’re supposed to fall down like I just did something spectacular.”

    On the other end, I’ve had the experience of standing in a line with hands on backs to be “group thrown” in a line where the front student had his hands on the instructor’s shoulders, the next student on that student’s back and so on. I was in the middle. The teacher did his thing and the other two students fell down writhing in pain. I was left standing wondering what the hell they’d been smoking. The only defence against this kind of thing is to keep meeting new people who may not comply the way you’re used to. Always keep an open mind and don’t lecture people into doing what you expect them to based on your dojo culture.

  18. Greetings all,

    As a new aikidoka of only a year’s experience, I attended a summer school this year with my association expecting to meet and train with a lot of highly skilled and capable aikidoka. I was, to say the least, bemused to find a lot of people, particularly yudansha, just seemed to want to hurl me around the mat and force my face into the ground with a pin. Even worse, often enough the technique wasn’t effective beyond hurting my elbows and wrists.

    Then when it came to my turn as tori I felt I was receiving little or no guidance in how to properly execute technique without using muscle; I felt I was really struggling to learn anything constructive.
    I left feeling disappointed and somewhat disillusioned.

    I think that the issues Mr. Pranin highlights here are exactly the root of the problem and especially harmful in that they prevent young new aikidoka, such as myself, from developing proper aikido and perhaps even turn some potential aikidoka away from the art.

    I wish you all the best with the Las Vegas seminars and hope they prove fruitful to the growth of our contemporary aikido.


    Gabriel C.

  19. Julian Harel says:

    I have had the privilege of studying under some excellent teachers for the last 18 years, fortunately including Eitan Sensei early on in my aiki experience. One of my favourite quotes of his is from the first seminar I ever attended. When he was asked if Aikido was a form of dance? His answer was “Try doing ballet with a 200 pound man gripping your hand!”

    This attitude has stayed with me ever since. It is especially true when dealing with new people especially when they are twice my size. Nobody told them they had to fall over theatrically when being “thrown” by one of the other aikidoka, so they don’t. Very soon it turns into an ego issue with the more experienced nage desperately trying to perform the technique using more and more strength and less and basic technique. I usually let this go on for a while before stepping in before somebody gets hurt (mentally of physically). This situation does not often happen with girls or women – obviously.

    There are important lessons to be learnt here for everyone. For the new guy I point out that his job as uke is twofold, mai for his own benifit and kaeshi-waza to keep the nage honest but not to prove how strong he is. Having studied with excellent teachers I found out how futile strength is, Seki Shihan has already been mentioned in this conversation, it is enough just to hold on to him never mind trying to be Neanderthal. For the nage I point out that he has become too invested in conquering the uke and has lost his centre both the physical and mental. I then ask them keep working to see if they can create something together.

    I think that both partners have to be honest more than anything else. There is a word in Hebrew called “kavanah” which can be translated as “intention” in English but has deeper meanings. If you attack with kavanah you seriously intend to strike or grab nage, this is not the same thing as hurt, you can attack with slowly with kavanah and still elicit a response. The same applies to tori.

    Reacting to mental intention or body language rather than an actual physical attack can preclude the need for relying on clever technique or speed which you may not possess.

    I think the essence of Aikido is change. You cannot change your uke nor should you try. You should avoid trying to forcibly change the situation when attacked but leave it where it is. Change yourself, learn from everybody you can regardless of rank and keep practising.

  20. So true with the over use of strength to execute moves and this becomes even more problematic for older students on the receiving end of Uke’s unskilled technique.

    I have found that small women can be the best models for how to learn. They lack the upper body strength and go directly to better center manipulation and full body locking as you describe.

    Having been in hard and soft arts it is very difficult for someone coming from Karate type hard striking foundation to make the move to the softer foundations of Aikido.

  21. Like many thousands, I was one more student of Morihiro Saito Sensei. Now I keep on studying under his successor, Hitohira Saito Kaicho.

    Through the years – when I was lucky enough to be learning directly under Sensei – I always understood one thing: for Sensei, not only the technique had to be effective but also beautiful and one could never hurt the partner (many of my sempai did not quite understand this… never mind…) but mostly the DO part of Aiki and the DO part of Budo were extremely important.

    Do is michi, path, right? This path is difficult to tread. Correct and honest technique will help you tread the path in a correct and honest way, but you have to be conscious of it and you have to work mentally and physically to get there. A lot of this.

    To the people in my dojo who want to be able to fight, I tell them to go and study something else. There are hundreds of new combat sports that will teach one this very quickly. But I will not change my aikido into a “fighting Aikido”, “real Aikido”, “extreme Aikido”, “combat Aikido”, etc.

    Aikido – from Iwama – is fine as it is; It is immense. I trust Aikido implicitly. I see no need to put any of my masters’ (Father and Son) teachings in question or to add or subtract. Does this mean that I do not study other martial arts? No. Saito Sensei knew many techniques of many martial arts, yet he was traveling on the path of his only teacher the master Morihei Ueshiba. Often, when watching old martial arts movies or demonstrations with the uchideshi Sensei would say, this technique is from Katori this is from Hozoin, This is Tatsumi, … this Budo is very fierce, …this is very strong, etc. This means he was keenly aware of other Budo and other Budo techniques.

    It is rather disappointing to see many teachers trying to change what they learned when most have not yet reached the level of their masters. It is very intelligent to study to become better than your master or at least as good. It is not dishonorable – only then – to follow a different path and develop your own Budo. But one must study a lot before that. Really a lot.

    So, one problem is that practitioners forget the DO.

    • I always say, Saito Shihan was an uchi deshi under O’ Sensei for 23 years. And what he got from his Teacher was the best of both worlds. By testing Saito Shihan’s deshi you will feel what real aikido is like. There’s no playing, but true art is formed when you practise your aikido day in and day out without questioning, like in the old days. You have to repeat and steal your Sensei’s techniques and then you have to improve on yourselves.

  22. On your nikyo example you would need a perfect uke. How do you accomplish a real technique with all of its ingredients if you don’t have a sincere attacker? How would you condition an aikidoka’s body in order to let’s say have the energy to take high ukemi if we are supposed to practice slow and extremely carefully? By this I mean, people do not develop this type of high impact conditioning with low impact practice.

  23. Hi Stanley,

    Such a breath of fresh air. Finally someone of note is bringing up the glaringly obvious that I have noticed from day one in my Aikido journey (started back in the 70’s). After living in Japan for over 9 years, one major flaw that a lot of foreigners studying Aikido have is not to utilise their lower body. Many techniques are done using only the top half of their body and end up in them contouring themselves to try and make techniques work. Many have no other option than to use brute force and physical strength. There is no indication of off balance in the attacker and it all looks like co-operative gymnastics.
    Just staying upright on balance, knees unlocked, with your weight evenly distributed on both feet, and never leaning forward or backwards would make such a significant difference in the power generated and the proper execution of techniques.

    It is a simple error. Most of us foreigners are top heavy as this is the way we were taught by society. This helps to make us look powerful, but leaves most with little chicken legs. The Japanese do not go there. They were usually of smaller stature and have learnt the way to fully utilise their whole body to generate power.

    Just watch O-Sensei and read his writings. He never looks off-balance, never throws his weight too forward of backward, yet he generated amazing power and force. It is all about using the body as one co-ordinated totally balanced unit. This generates all the power required to have powerful Aikido techniques.

    Enjoy the journey

  24. Orlando gil says:

    Very interesting points. I would just add the ukemis. All of them. It is important to break down the art of falling so student looses his fear of getting hurt.

  25. Mark Mitchell says:

    Good points Stanley. Thanks again for carrying the torch. Especially the point about good physical conditioning. I have many a sensei who were basically overweight and unhealthy. We need more cardio and stretching.

    • Stephen Nichol says:

      Well just to be clear, I feel that ‘we’ as people need to make an effort to stay healthy and in reasonable physical condition in general (better quality of life) and especially so for the proper practice of martial arts.

      I feel that ‘getting in shape’ is something you have to do on your own time though and not leave it for the 3 or 4 nights a week at the dojo. That time is best spent training with whatever you are trying to learn and get better at doing. Running laps and doing push ups or whatever on dojo time is not the optimal use of ones time there. Push ups can be done at home, running can be done pretty much anywhere.

  26. Exactly.
    We tend to emphasize the “throw”. But if there is no “Kuzushi” (balance breaking), Aikido does not work. To make it work, force is then used, increasing the risk of injury.
    Sorry for repeating the same thing, but it is the most important secret of good Aikido. It is not the
    techniques that we should be teaching, but the entry into the techniques, the Kuzushi.
    Thank you Pranin Sensei.

  27. phillip owen says:

    Hi Stan, in my experience a lot of the ‘senseis’ of British descent have shown an arrogance which has made visiting the ‘dojo’ an unpleasant experience,
    because of my agility and build, I have been used as uke countless times, at no time do I recall being thrown ‘spirit way’, in other words, strength was felt to be used in every case, with this strength aggression has also been shown to be prevalent in British dojos.

    For me, Aikido is much more than throws and locks etc, it is a way of life that can be used to direct one’s life and business dealings in accord with nature and nurture. Too many ‘black belt ‘s use their time in the dojo to feed their ego at the expense of lesser trained individuals.

    Sad to say, but that is how I have found it to be.

    • Andy Dawson says:

      I have been very fortunate to meet one aikidoka who my daughter named The Air Ninja.
      This British Shihan, when attacked, was not there and you found yourself on the ground, sometimes wondering how you got there.
      It was just like the description Tohei gives of his first meeting with Ueshiba.

  28. Stanley:

    When you say (in response to poor attention given to breaking uke’s balance) “One solution to this problem is to stress the importance of nage operating from uke’s blind spot”, do you intend that practitioners should properly learn balance breaking as the fundamental Aikido prerequisite principle, and then not require nage to operate from Uke’s blind spot? Or is this operating from the blind spot a further desirable icing on the cake, even though you have mastered and executed the balance breaking properly?

    • My belief is that operating for the blind spot is the most advantageous for nage. If circumstances require nage to operate in front or pass in front of uke then other measures are required such as hitoemi, atemi, and kiai. In the latter case, one has to take away uke’s initiative and gain control over the encounter.

  29. Hey, phlilip owen, not to contradict your personal experience, but It seems too much of a sweeping generalisation from this to say that “a lot of the Senseis of British descent have shown an arrogance…”, as this categorisation would seem to condemn a whole country’s worth of Aikido expertise, and this would be a really unfair and limiting worldview. To offer a contrasting experience, I have just joined a dojo whose 2nd ranking black belt (after the Sensei himself) is a Brit, and one could not ask for a more considerate, knowledgable and protective instructor than this guy.

  30. O’Sensei and his main students came to Aikido after they already were proficient in other martial arts that stressed more physical/hard aspect of fighting, grappling, etc. So in that aspect Aikido is the finishing touch on their skill. Today people who just learn Aikido and do not “cross-train” lack this base to their art to make it realistic. People see O’Sensei flicking his little finger and people flying, but don’t understand that #1 that’s a demonstration and #2 that O’Sensei had already trained the hard-styles of martial arts and was so advanced that he could do it very easily and “softly.” O’Sensei had already forgot more than most people will ever learn. I think cross training is an essential part of learning Aikido.

  31. paul conway says:

    Maybe it’s unfortunate that the word ‘throw’ gets used at all in an aikido context. It seems to mean “arms! Use the arms to do throwing! Like a ball!” to a great many people. Maybe ‘drop’ would be better. The way I was taught kotegaeshi, for example, has much more to do with turning of hips and bending of knee. Tenchinage in mainly about giving uke an anchor point in his mind with the lower hand and moving that down while taking mind with the other hand..apologies for the poor explanations..but I’m as guilty as the next of having momentary lapses where technique hits an unfamiliar situation and the big, dumb lunk tries brute force and ignorance.

    By the way, the “British” thing mentioned above is a big generalisation, but those people do exist. I have run into them when attending other dojos for seminars, the competitive types, but it’s not all of us. (-;

  32. Dwight Petersen says:

    Once, for lack of a local Aikido dojo, for two months I trained with a local Daito Ryu dojo. I remember little, except two images. First, I was never on the mat when there was not someone (not the same person) who was wearing a cast from a training injury. Second, the students were much enamored of certain demonstrated techniques in which the sensei would lock up the body of his uke. I don’t have anything profound to say. But it seems that locking up uke’s body had some importance in Daito Ryu as well.

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